Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gearing Up

We've been gearing up--literally--for our first family backpacking trip

Over the past few months, I've been amassing backpacks (new lightweight ones, all around; I could not bear the thought of shouldering my old, heavy, cordura internal frame pack ever again) and sleeping mats and titanium bowls and bamboo spoons and miscellaneous pieces of long underwear and rain gear.

Last week, I loaded up on macaroni and cheese, crackers, loaves of bread the size and density of bricks, trail mix, freeze dried berries, fig bars, chocolate and sun butter.

And then Sunday morning, the kids all away at friends' houses, I sat down at my sewing machine and fired off a dozen or so stuff sacks out of super lightweight silicon-impregnated nylon, and then spent the rest of the day (happily it was a rather dreary, rainy one, so I didn't miss much outside) sorting, stuffing, arranging, loading, squeezing and strapping.

Here are our packs, fully loaded (almost, except for a few last-minute items) and ready to go:

This will be our first overnight hiking trip in thirteen years (the last being when M was four months old!!). Coincidentally, this story and this response about "The Death of Backpacking" just came out in the last week, about young people no longer backpacking. One factor neither author seems to have considered for why it seems (based on anecdotal evidence, no less) few people under the age of 50 backpack anymore is--kids. Perhaps there are plenty of people in their 20s out there backpacking, but then a lull among those in their 30s and 40s because all those people are busy with little kids and don't have it in them to haul both the kids and all the extra gear kids entail into the backcountry. This is the first year that we have felt like the kids are ready to handle their own packs and that we're ready--mentally--to handle the kids seven miles from the nearest road.

In any case, I'm ridiculously excited for this trip. I didn't realize how much I missed travelling on my own two feet into the woods. But I'm under no illusion that it will be easy. I've loaded the first aid kit with ibuprofen and muscle rub (to keep me happy ) and stocked up on cards, comic books, little treats and lollipops (to keep the kids happy). Wish us luck!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Weekend Things: Another Beach Day

We were invited to go to the beach this weekend with E and Z's best friend and his parents.

With a million things I needed to do at home and not enough time to do them,

I had no choice but to say "yes."

Summer only comes once a year, after all.

It was a perfect afternoon of sun and waves and driftwood and a cookout with a view.

Followed by a late evening stroll on the sand.

My philosophy: always say "yes" to the beach.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Berries just might be the second-best part of a Maine summer (the first-best being, of course, the beach).

Each berry season unfolds into the next: strawberry--raspberry--blueberry--blackberry.

So that you're almost never without berries from the Fourth of July to Labor Day.

E has been scouring our wild raspberry canes for about two weeks, but they give up only scant handfuls at a time.

Luckily, we happen to have neighbors with a gorgeous raspberry field. 

And even more luckily, they always go on vacation right at the heart of raspberry season, and call us on their way out of town, "Go pick our raspberries!"

C left a jar of maple syrup on their front porch as a thank-you, which is a good thing, since my strawberry jam was a disaster (I abandoned it mid-boil to read to E and Z and it way over-cooked. And, yes, I know you're not supposed to turn your back on boiling sugar, but what's a mama to do?) so I didn't much feel like making raspberry jam, even to reciprocate.

In the midst of picking, I lay down in the grass nearby for a short nap (C, our slave-driver, was sitting in the middle of the canes and could not see me slacking). I listened to the bees hum and M do Napoleon Dynamite impressions and sing (his latest favorite is Weezer), and watched a yellow spider the size of a pin-head crawl through the jungle of the fine cotton fibers of my shirt sleeve.

We put most of the berries in the freezer for winter enjoyment, and the rest I made into a pie that E claimed to be "the best pie I ever had!" (Though C was somewhat critical of the runny nature of the filling).

While we were picking, I happened to catch a glimpse of this Northern Pearly Eyes resting on the garage window. A very accommodating butterfly, it let me get in up close to take its picture.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Weekend Things: Whirlwind

Saturday morning, I dropped M and his guitar equipment off outside of a bar in downtown Hallowell, and then wended my way through parade reroutes and bridge-out detours out of town and to a small nature preserve in Litchfield. There I joined a group of people in chasing down butterflies as part of my Master Naturalist training.

Clouded sulfur
Great spangled fritillary 

Cute beetle.

Silver-spotted skipper

Cute damselfly
When we finished, I raced back to Hallowell, where I caught the end of the second Rock Camp group's set and, happily, all of M's group's set.

Blah, Blah, Blah performing Green Day's "American Idiot"
After a quick lemonade on the waterfront, I hurried home, showered and changed, and headed back into town, where I med a friend and drove down to Brunswick for dinner and the commencement ceremonies for the students graduating this semester from my grad school program.

The whole day felt kind of disjointed--chasing butterflies, rocking out in a bar, talking writing and books, listening to inspiring speeches, dancing late into the night, catching up with good friends. It was like a microcosm of my whole life; I feel like I'm cramming too many things into too small a space. But there's not a single thing on that list I'd want to give up. Sunday I was too tired to do much of anything--we went raspberry picking, I taught E how to play Speed (in an effort to avoid playing either Chess or Pokemon) while everyone else was at C's grandmother's birthday party, and worked on my nature journal while he watched Ninjago, I made a pie. 

At the end of the day, looking around at the post-apocalyptic landscape that is our living room, I said to C, "I wish I could take a few days off work and get the house in order."

"Or," he said, "you could just stay home on the weekend."

But I don't want to stay home on the weekend...and if I do stay home on the weekend, I don't want to spend my time getting the house in order. I already feel like I have to squeeze my entire life into two days a week. I'm not giving away those two days, too.

How about you? Have you achieved this illusive "work-life balance"? And if not, what do you give up to make it all fit in?

Thursday, July 17, 2014


It is exceedingly unfair that we get five months of snow here and only three weeks of strawberries.

C was able to pick about 24 quarts the week before last. He froze most of them, plus I made strawberry-rhubarb cake, using way too many strawberries so that the cake part turned to a gluey (but delicious) mess in the bottom of the pan, and the rest we ate as fast as we could, with no time to make jam.

But that wasn't enough, you know? (It's never enough).

So we went out again Sunday afternoon, as a family.

We had the fields to ourselves. It was a hot day with a dry wind that made me feel like I was back home on the plains in Colorado.

I love everything about strawberries. Their color. Their shape. The green fringe around their stems. The tiny yellow seeds dotting their skin. Their three-part, serrated leaves. The way the berries hide out underneath their own foliage. And the flavor, of course. The flavor. Sweet-tart-red-juicy-essence-of-summer-goodness.

We lucked out this summer.

The punishing rains that usually rot the berries on the vine didn't come until this week, after the fields were spent. So we came home with three flats of berries, just shy of ripe so that they would keep on our kitchen counter for a few days, until we could turn our attention to them.

But first, strawberry shortcake.

Z had been in a baking mood Sunday morning, and after I steered him away from cinnamon rolls (yeast! rising! hot oven for an hour!), he settled on scones, which fit perfectly into my strawberry shortcake plans.

He made them almost entirely himself (with a little help on cutting in the butter and getting the whole mess of dough to stick together), following the cookbook and everything. He was so proud he took half-a-dozen pictures (gee, where'd he get that quirk from?).

After dinner, we smothered them with whipped cream and fresh, sweet, red, delicious strawberries. One of the best things about summer, I dare say.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Across The Ocean

Back in May, when we hiked to a little beach during our Hermit Island camping adventure, we found a bottle with a message in it. A lobsterman hauling traps had tossed the bottle out from Vinalhaven, Maine (and island off the coast of Rockland, up the coast from--i.e. downeast of--Hermit Island) the previous October. He wrote on the note, "If found call, if found shortly, please send jug back over and sign it yourself." 

I'm sorry to say, we never did call our lobsterman, but we did sign the note and send it "back over." We expected it to toss about in the waves for a while and wash back on the beach, for us to find next May. So imagine my surprise when I got a phone call Saturday evening from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia,  where a very friendly man, his wife, and his granddaughter found the bottle that very day! After chatting for a while with him and encouraging him to yes, indeed, send the bottle back out with another note, I said to my family, "You'll never believe who that was!" They were as astonished as I, and C dug around in a big grocery sack full of maps that we keep in some corner of the basement until he came up with one that depicts Maine and the Maritimes.

It turns out that, at least in this map's projection, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia is nearly due east of of where we launched our bottle, a fact that I can barely wrap my brain around (E is pointing to Hermit Island; Yarmouth is about where his forearm crosses the peninsula; disregard C pointing at New Brunswick).

Our new Nova Scotian friend thinks the recent hurricane carried the bottle from us to them. We tried to imagine what the trip would be like in a kayak (impossible!). Maybe we'll have to take the ferry over and see the route our little bottle took across the water. I wonder where it will go next!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Weekend Things: Summering

I've been feeling a little cranky--as I always do this time of year--that summer's moving by way too fast, and I'm not enjoying it to its fullest.

This weekend was one of those with the perfect beach weather, the kind where you feel guilty for not going out and spending the whole time in the sand and saltwater, but at the same time is filled with little niggly to-do's, like picking kids up from sleepovers, and then end of season baseball awards, and more housework than you care to think about, and you feel kind of secretly relieved for the excuse to just stay home and, if only for a minute, pretend like you're ten years old again, in a middle of a summer that is terminally, boringly, gloriously endless, with nothing to do but walk to the park and collect armfuls of books from the bookmobile and suck all of the juice out of homemade grape popsicles and then crunch the remaining clear ice between your teeth, right before you run through the sprinkler.

Okay, I didn't actually do all of that.

Or any of that.

But I did sneak a few minutes in the hammock.

And I thought a lot about why didn't I become a teacher?

Kids, listen to me. Become a teacher when you grow up. Never mind how hard they work. I'm talking summers off, people!

And we all waded up the river, 

Capturing pictures of damselflies and actual crawdads along the way.

It wasn't endless. In fact it was too short. And too busy. But it was good.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer Book Blitz

For some reason, I often have a hard time selecting fiction to read. While at the same time, when I hear of a book that sounds good to me, I find excuses not to get it--I don't want to pay the hardcover price or I don't want to wait in the library queue for a copy to become available.

I finally had enough of this nonsensical behavior, and ordered through interlibrary loan a whole bunch of books I'd been juggling on a "want to read" list in my head. I figured that since most of them were recent releases, it would take a while to get them, and they would be staggered over the next few months. Wouldn't you know, they all came practically at once.

What ensued was a reading blitz. I didn't so much devour these books as inhale them. It's been a long time since I've been sucked into a really good book such that it makes me want to sneak away and read at all hours of the day and neglect my normal duties (like sleep), but somehow I ended up with a whole pile of them. Here's a quick run-down of the list and what I enjoyed about each book.

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld. Motherhood, family relationships, marriage, and the sixth sense all come together to make Sisterland a fun and compelling read. I very much enjoyed the characters in this book, especially the twin sister of the narrator, Vi. I was thrown off a little by what I thought was an unrealistic reaction by the husband to the wife giving away their life savings times two, but I was totally surprised by the ending and enjoyed the story and the premise very much.

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement. Jennifer was a fellow student of mine in my grad school program, but I didn't know her well (we never had a workshop together) and I had no idea she was writing this book until she read an excerpt at our final readings. Prayers for the Stolen is a heart-wrenching story about the tragic costs of drug and human trafficking in Mexico told from the engaging point of view of the main character, Ladydi. Beautifully written to make this hard-to-face subject easy to read.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Klein. A two-part narrative of a girl sent to the midwest on one of the orphan trains of the early 20th century and of a modern-day foster child. Another story that has its heart-wrenching elements--some humans can be really awful to other humans--but is also a compelling story with engaging characters that make you want to keep reading.

Room by Emma Donoghue. Oh my god. I guess the theme of this list is heart-wrenching stories. This one came out a few years ago--the story is written from the point-of-view of a five-year-old boy who has lived his entire life in the garden shed where his mother has been held captive as a sex slave. An amazing narrative voice and a story that rockets from start to finish. My heart was in my throat the whole time I read. One of the most resonant pieces of this very moving book I found was the reaction to people on the "outside" to this captive woman's experience and how they judged her parenting choices. 

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. I have to admit that I never finished reading Eat, Pray, Love. I got hungry in Italy but bored in India. Yet I was intrigued by the premise of Gilbert's latest book: a 17th century lady natural obsessed with moss. I loved reading about Alma's education and development as a naturalist (especially in light of taking a foray into that field myself), but the book turned out to be so much more: love, family, relationships, science, social mores of the time. I really loved every minute of reading this book (my time ran out on my library copy and I couldn't renew it because someone had it on hold, so I kept it two extra days for twenty cents so I could finish it. Shh. Don't tell the librarian).

Euphoria by Lily King. I've just started this book, so I won't say much, but just a few chapters in I'm enraptured. It takes place in New Guinea early last century, and the main characters are anthropologists (I think I read on the fly that it's based on Margaret Mead, her husband, and a friend of theirs). Super intriguing and lovely lush writing.

Museum of Accidents by Rachel Zucker. Finally, a book of poetry. I came to Rachel Zucker from this great Symposium of Sentiment (a subject dear to my heart). I would have liked to read her memoir, but this was the only book in our library system. I need to read poetry slowly, rather than inhale it (or my brain just shuts down), so I've been savoring one poem at a time here and there. Some are a bit abstract for my concrete brain, but others I've found so moving and meaningful (many about fertility and motherhood, which of course I connect with).

So. Lots of good stuff here. I think I'm famished for novels after two years of reading almost exclusively short stories (which are much slower reads, despite their length, don't you think?). Some trends I noticed--almost all of the novels are in first-person POV (except Signature of All Things and Orphan Train which alternates between first and third). It seems like the literary magazines I've read lately publish mostly first-person stories. Is this the trend? The other trend is that half of them are historical fiction (Euphoria, Signature, and Orphan Train which is half historical and half contemporary). Is this an actual trend or just an accident of what I happened to pick up? Should I be writing historical first-person POV stories?

What good stuff have you been reading this summer?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Naturalist's Corners

Last week, I was tidying up my desk, to get rid of piles of junk mail and other people's stuff, and to make the surface a more inviting place to work on my Master Naturalist homework (and some writing projects I need to get motivated on!).

As I started to load my field guides and various supplies into a large grocery sack, to keep them all together, but not on the surface of the desk, I realized I needed a better system than an ugly Hannaford bag, something that would be inviting and remind me that this is work I value. So instead of the sack, I moved out a small table that had become a clutter accumulator and replaced it with this little bookcase, which had been home to wooden animals that, quite frankly (but sadly), my kids have long outgrown.

On its shelves, I placed field guides, colored pencils, dissecting kit, collecting supplies, and M's microscope. Underneath, there is just enough room for my folders and books too large for the shelves.
As soon as I finished my little Naturalist's Corner, Z made a Naturalist's Corner of his own in the sun room.

I had brought that old oak desk up from the basement last month, after we moved the houseplants outside (he had been asking me to bring it up for months!). He added the wooden crate/bookshelf, a magnifying glass, his big amethyst, jars and boxes of specimens (mostly rocks and a few butterflies found in car grilles).

He then went right to work drawing a turkey feather. Since getting my kids involved is one of my top-secret ulterior motives in becoming a Master Naturalist, I think this was a good start!

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